Something is missing when we begin Easter with fanfares and alleluias. In our scriptures, Easter begins with fear and with questions whispered in the dark. After the women discovered the empty tomb, Mark’s gospel tells us they fled, “for terror and amazement had seized them” (16:8). Luke reports they “were terrified” (24:5). Matthew adds a note of joy, but Jesus’ friends still need to be assured, not once but twice: “Do not be afraid” (28:5, 10). John’s report doesn’t mention fear but contains plenty of weeping (20:11).
The risen Christ seems surprised at this. “Why are you weeping?” he asks Mary. What else would she do? We weep at the grave of the one we love. And when everything we expect of our world is turned inside out – when what we know as the natural order of life is turned upside down and we completely lose our bearings, lose the protection of predictability and control – what else would we feel at first but fear?
“Nature abhors a vacuum,” Aristotle observed. As true as that is of the physical world, it’s equally true of our spiritual and emotional life. Emptiness is hard to bear, loss hard to suffer. So we tend to leap over the emptiness and fear and weeping of Easter and go straight for the trumpets and alleluias, like we do lots of other times.
Are you feeling bored or empty? Try some “retail therapy.” Lonely? Join the crowds. Have you experienced a deep loss? Busy yourself with something, anything, to numb the pain. Have you lost your bearings in life, the anchors that kept you from drifting? Reach for anything that seems stable; grab hold of it, and hold on for dear life.
But before we can do any of that in the face of Easter’s fear and weeping, before we pull the trumpets out of their cases and start singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” the risen Christ stops us with a question. “Whom are you looking for?” It’s a question we’ve heard before in slightly different form, and because he asks it again, it’s probably worth some attention.
In the beginning of his ministry, when he attracts his first two disciples, Jesus turns to them and asks, “What are you looking for” (John 1:38)? He doesn’t turn them away, but he wants to know why they’re leaving their discipleship to John and coming to him. Maybe he wants to be sure they know why they’re coming to him, what they’re looking for, why they’re changing the direction of their lives, why they’re considering a commitment to the way of life he offers.
It’s a good question. What is it we truly want, any of us? What’s worth so much to us that to obtain it we’re willing to give up everything else – everything – for that’s the cost Jesus says we must pay to gain what he offers (e.g., Luke 14:25-33). St. Ignatius Loyola taught that every time we pray we should ask God to give us what we are looking for, so we’d better be sure we’re looking for the right thing, the best thing, the thing in life that’s worth more than everything else.
Now at the end – or rather at a new beginning – the risen Christ is asking the same question, with a twist, and he’s asking it of us, of me: “Whom are you looking for?” Are you looking for the one whose loss you mourn, for whom you shed tears of sorrow? The life you knew yesterday? Or are you willing to meet the one it turns out you hardly if at all knew? Are you willing to be surprised by a Christ who, compared to the one you’ve read about or heard about or spent so much time with, is so different, so much larger, so much more, it’s like you’re meeting for the first time?
Desires are powerful, and our deepest desires are more powerful than we can imagine. If we can name them and channel them in the right direction, their power may be unleashed, and our lives – and the world around us – will be transformed into something we may have only dreamed about. So on this Easter morning, consider carefully before you answer the question: Whom are you looking for?